29 June 2015
Fort Worth, TX
I hope this letter finds you well. I write more for cathartic means than for any other purpose, and it is my hope that through your reading (and possibly through your writing) you too may find catharsis.
While working as a graduate intern at TCU Press, I was reawakened to a fault in modern correspondence: we have lost letters. Well, we haven’t lost them exactly . . . we no longer write them. (Note: an extended text message does not count as a letter.)
Kassia Waggoner and Adam Nemmers, two doctoral students at Texas Christian University, stumbled upon a collection of Civil War letters in the Mary Couts Burnett Library. The Love family composed these letters that not only grant insight into the lives of soldiers but also reveal intimate details of family life during the Civil War. As Waggoner and Nemmers explain in their book, Yours in Filial Regard: The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family, the Love brothers fighting in the war—Cyrus, Sam, James, John, and Robert—wrote most of the letters, revealing the importance of written correspondence to their psychological health.
After reading Yours in Filial Regards, I believe the Love brothers teach us four main sources of motivation for writing letters:
Words penned down are not hurriedly typed and then sent into a digital world. They are thought out, measured, decided upon, and then written. Those whom you love deserve your letters because they deserve your thoughts—your unhurried thoughts.
Absolute Love and Care
If composing a letter requires that you carefully think about the person to whom you are writing, then the act of letter writing proves how much you care about them. Your words testify that you have set aside all other aspects of your daily life to chronicle your deepest sympathies regarding this person.
You don’t write a letter to someone in whom you have not invested a significant amount of time and energy—plain and simple. (Even if you write a negative letter, you are still investing a significant amount of energy to pen down your negative emotions.)
This point may seem strange, but if you read through Waggoner and Nemmer’s collection, I’m certain you will find it more than appropriate. Throughout their letters, the Love brothers express concern for their family’s welfare. But underlying worry seems to permeate the letters—the brothers wonder why they have not received letters back from their family, no doubt questioning how much they are missed by their loved ones.
When we are away from those we love, it’s natural to worry whether they think of us as often as we think of them. Cyrus Love, the eldest Love brother, is no exception, so he writes letters to his family. But then one day, August 20, 1863, he writes his last letter. I doubt he knew that it would be his last, but his words ring ironically into the present day:
My life has again been protected by Providence. . . It has been the Will of the Deity that I should not be killed so far and I hope He will protect my life through the war so that I may be able to return to you. . . The sum of my wishes for some time past is that I may live to get back to you. . . (Letter 74)
Cyrus died in battle on October 7, 1863. He never returned to his family. His last penned words read:
Tell Tenny. Alice. Mary. Lizzy. And John K to be good children and study hard.
Yours in filial regard &c
Cyrus may have worried whether his family was thinking about him or whether they knew how much he cared for them. But history has proved that Cyrus need not have worried—his love and care lives on today through his letter.
Letters. They need not go by the wayside. They, perhaps more than any other medium, show how much we love and care for those around us. Cyrus’ final words cause me to wonder: if I had one last letter to write, to whom would I write it and what would it say?
I, like Cyrus Love, would send my last letter to my parents. Who would you send yours to? What would your letter say?
Megan Poole is a graduate student and teaching assistant in the TCU Department of English.